Working well with others is an essential skill for career success, especially in law practices that often rely heavily on legal teams. But sometimes the most challenging part of getting the job done — especially in high-pressure settings — is interacting effectively with colleagues whose work style, experience level or generational background are quite different from your own.
Most people also recognize that opposites can bring complementary strengths to the table, and this often leads to strong partnerships. But even if the interactions are constructive, it’s not always easy to deal with polar opposites in the workplace. Conflicts are inevitable if legal professionals don’t try to adapt to one another’s style. Rather than allowing your differences to create frustration and stress, try these tips for improving collaboration with your coworkers:
- Acknowledge differences.Don’t be afraid to recognize the elephant in the room – your clashing work styles. Talking the issue out allows room for compromise and may even bring some humor to the situation. Once you’ve both acknowledged your different work styles or preferences, it becomes much easier to negotiate how best to proceed.
- Don’t aim too high.Remind yourself that you don’t have to have to be close friends with everyone in the office; you simply have to find a way to work effectively with them. This may help you recalibrate your expectations for office relationships and stay focused on tackling the tasks at hand.
- Avoid miscommunication.Maybe you keep getting your wires crossed with a team member because you’re trading emails or instant messages on the fly, rather than actually talking. Try to find a better solution, such as more face-to-face communication. Ask leading questions so that the other person gives you specific answers with the detail you’re seeking. If necessary, summarize the information you’ve been given and ask for final confirmation.
- Remember the positive.Although it may be initially challenging to work with someone whose professional style is completely at odds with yours, it doesn’t mean the person doesn’t have unique contributions to make. Once you understand someone’s approach and preferences, working together becomes less about differences and more about taking advantage of each other’s individual strengths.
- Know your own idiosyncrasies.Your habits can drive your colleagues just as nuts as theirs drive you. What do friends and family say you do that can be annoying? Are you too rigid about how things should be done, or do you tend to procrastinate? If you sense that something about your work style grates on a coworker, don’t be afraid to broach the subject and consider how to make adjustments.
Sure, day-to-day interactions would probably be easier if everyone in your office had the same work style. But as appealing as that may sound on the surface, a small degree of friction is often useful in reaching the best outcome. Taking the time to understand how your colleagues prefer to do their jobs, as well as how you approach work, won’t solve every issue, but it can help you build more effective professional relationships. As a bonus, you’ll be seen as someone with a flexible style who can work well with anyone. And this quality can only help your career in today’s team-oriented work environments.
Charles A. Volkert is executive director of Robert Half Legal, a leading staffing service specializing in the placement of attorneys, paralegals, legal administrators and other legal professionals with law firms and corporate legal departments. Based in Menlo Park, Calif., Robert Half Legal has offices in major cities throughout the United States and Canada.